2013 Previews: My Bullpen is Full of Eels

JA Happ trying to learn french as another argument for him to make the team.

Rather then try and find the time to write about every single player on the 40-man roster, I thought I’d lump them together to make up a view posts: infielders, outfielders and bench, bullpen and starters. That way I focus on their roles as a unit and well, save sometime. Enjoy!

UPDATE// Just as I was about to post this, the Jays announced that the Ricky Romero had be optioned to the Class A Dunedin Blue Jays. This changes a bit about what I wrote below about JA Happ in the bullpen, but only a bit. Posting this now and will have words about Romero situation later tonight. Go read DJF //

It took a fair amount of willpower to start with the bullpen, easily the Jays weakest spot, and so I thought I’d treat it like a band-aid on my hair calf – just suck it up and pull that sucker off. I feel like that would be less painful.

The moving target that is the 2013 Blue Jays bullpen is further complicated by the injuries to it’s too biggest names. 2012 stalwart Casey Jansen is coming off minor surgery during the winter and is still working his way back to full strength. 2012 would be closer and converted shortstop Sergio Santos is back from his injury-plagued first year as a Jay and we should get our first real look at him this year. Both have the capacity to take care of the 9th inning and having two capable closers gives Gibbons options in the case of two back-to-back close games or if one gets hurt. Santos is younger and more of a typical hard thrower, caping out the gun in the 94-96 range. Jansen on the other hand is a more complete package, with his trademark cut fastball and ability to paint his change up outside to righties. He gets a load of ground balls (42.2%) and limits runs (83% of batters left on base) are things you need if you to shut the door. He’ll rarely blow your socks off, but he’s fun to watch. Plus as my wife repeatedly points out – his name is Casey and wears tall socks.

Further down the pecking order is where things get more complicated. Despite rumours that he wanted to either play near his Texas home or retire, the Jays picked up Darren Oliver’s option anyways and he decide to give it another season. Oliver was the most consistent member of the 2012 pen and he managed to do so while putting up some frankly great numbers. Bullpens are known for their unpredictability, so having an assent like Oliver to bring in against levy-heavy segments of lineups in the 7th or 8th isn’t something to sneeze at. Like your mom’s Ford Taurus, he’s reliable but far from flashy. Speaking of lack of flash, former starter turned lefty/long-man Brett Cecil will goggle-up and run out there to try and hope he can have as long a career as Oliver has working his decent splits against lefties. His numbers looked good in the few trips he made from the pen last year, but if someone else wows Gibbons in minors, he’ll have to pitch well to keep himself from the waiver wire. Cecil is product of an all too familiar trend for the Jays – a burned out starter whose got little value but no options to send him back to AAA. In a year where the Jays are looking to contend, it seems like Cecil will get a shot out of camp to see what he’s got, but I doubt Anthopoulos will hesitate to try and sneak him past the wire if he blows up.

The rest of the pen is rounded out by newcomers Esmil Rogers (who is the roundabout product of John Ferrel’s ‘get me out of here’ trade), and some combo of either Jeremy Jeffries, Aaron Loup, Steve Delebar, Aaron Loup and the shocker – Dustin McGowen. Going into the spring, my (and everyone else’s) assumption is that we’d see McGowen trotted out for bullpen sessions and long toss with his throwing arm (and knee, foot) ducted tape on. Instead we have him this afternoon throwing a full inning against REALL BASEBALL PLAYERS. His progress is nothing sort of miraculous at this point and I wish him all the best. He may provide a great power arm out of the pen when the starter gets in a jam, but at this point if he steps on the field once this year, I’m impressed. I think the Jays were right to stick by him last year, he costs nothing and if he can regain a sniff of his former strength (he hit 93 on the gun in Dunedin today) he could be an asset. **Just as I was editing this post, the spring training game against the Pirates finished up in which McGown threw a full inning.

Shi Dividi writes that while McGown is progressing, he likely won’t be ready to break camp with the team. Which is the least surprising news ever. What was even more interesting is the nugget blog yeoman Gregor Chisolm dropped, which in quoting skipper John Gibbons:

It seems like JA Happ’s battle to make the big league team means he may make the team as a long man out of the pen, which I guess keeps him up against big league players but I’m sure messes with the rhythm of being in a rotation. If the Jays really wanted him as a starter, it seems wiser to send him to AAA. Should Romero falter and need to be sent to the Bisons to pitch his way out the paper bag he’s in right now, why not get Happ ready to work like a starter instead of sticking him in the pen. Looks like that the 5th spot may not be so locked down after all, all though Romero did pitch better today and will make the team, as Gibbons has been saying all spring.

Esmil Rogers was awful with the Rockies, good with the Indians so… who knows? Loup was great last year, and I hope he continues but again – who knows? He had 30.2 innings pitched last year. To be honest, I had to look up who the Jays had in the bullpen after Janssen, Santos, Cecil and Oliver. I forgot their names. And that’s ok.

Bullpens can help salvage a team with other problems, but the rarely can be predicted and therefore be depended on to put your team ahead of things. It’s like trying to catch lighting – the best you can do somedays is just stand outside wrapped in tinfoil and hold your dad’s 3-iron in the air. Just be prepared to pee your pants when your wife runs the microwave. I imagine part of the reason why AA has gone with some washed up former starters like Cecil is at least you know what they can give you. With Brett Lawrie on the DL and enough infielders on the bench already, word came out yesterday the season will likely begin with an 8 man pen. One can only hope and pray that this isn’t a fascination from last year that carries over. It gives the Jays a week or two while Lawire rebuilds his Red Bull levels to sort out who really deserves to be here and more importantly, hold the fort while the starting five get into a groove seeing real lineups everyday. It also means you can try and sneak one of them down to Buffalo while the other teams are also tweaking their existing player bases and not looking at what other teams are dumping for answers.

I imagine that the Jays bullpen will surprise this year. It will likely surprise us with how bad it is as often as it surprises us with how good it is. Santos’s rough six game stretch before the DL saved him will mean he’s got a lot to prove. The best thing for him would be NOT to start as the team’s closer (it looks like Casey Janssen will be ready to go by April 2nd). With the much more important upgrades the team made in it’s rotation this year, I imagine that barring significant injuries, everyone’s numbers will go up solely from not being used so much. If he stays as the teams closer, Jansen’s saves will go up just from being more tight games provided by a more consistent offence. However one the best things about the Jays 2012 bullpen is that it will likely be in the best position to be shored up at the trade deadline, now that the Jays have settled the questions around the rest the field. For the first time, Anthopoulos can focus all his energy on one part of the team going into the season, something we’ve heard is how he likes to operate. The bullpen maybe the least sexy (and least impactful) part of the team, but when push comes to shove, I think while it’s their weakest point and biggest question mark, it’ll get the job done.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s